Former Bears Aplenty in Stanley Cup Final
For the first time since 1998, the Washington Capitals, the NHL affiliate of the Hershey Bears, are off to the Stanley Cup Final. The Capitals, led by numerous former members of the Chocolate and White, claimed a win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals over Tampa Bay to advance to the Final for the first time in 20 years.
Washington's opponent will be the expansion Vegas Golden Knights who are seemingly the best story in all of sports. In the club's first season, Vegas pulled a city together after a time of tragedy and exceeded all expectations, and then some. While the Capitals and Bears are affiliates, there are also many ties to Hershey on the side of the Western Conference Champion as the Chocolate and White will be well represented in the chase for the NHL's holy grail.
HOW THEY GOT HERE:
After a summer where many key players departed, there were questions as to if the Capitals would remain a Stanley Cup contender. Alex Ovechkin came out flying with back-to-back hat tricks to open the season, but in the coming months, many were calling for a coaching change with the Capitals struggling out of the gate. Barry Trotz's team rallied, and the Capitals, who got contributions from many young players who spent last year in Hershey, finished first in the Metropolitan Division with a 49-26-7 record.
To get to the Final, Washington pulled out of an 0-2 hole to open the playoffs, winning four straight games to dispatch the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Capitals exercised the demons in the second round, dethroning the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in six games, thanks to an Evgeny Kuznetsov goal that ended the series in overtime of Game 6. In the Eastern Conference Final, Washington blanked the Tampa Bay Lightning in the final two games of a series that went the distance.
KEY PLAYOFF CONTRIBUTORS:
Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov leads all players in the postseason with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists), while Alex Ovechkin is second in the playoffs with 12 goals. Goaltender Braden Holtby didn't post sensational numbers in the regular season, and the former Vezina Trophy winner didn't even start the first two games of the Columbus series. Since being inserted in Game 3 of the opening round, Holtby has gone 12-6 with a 2.04 goals against average and a .923 save percentage to go along with two shutouts.
FORMER BEARS FOR WASHINGTON:
Jay Beagle, Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Pheonix Copley, Christian Djoos, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Dmitri Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Tom Wilson.
Djoos, Stephenson, and Vrana all played for Hershey for the past several years and have become regulars in Washington's lineup. Beagle and Carlson won back-to-back Calder Cups in Hershey in 2009 and 2010, while Holtby helped the club to the title in 2010. Beagle is looking to accomplish a rare feat in winning the ECHL's Kelly Cup (Idaho, 2007), AHL's Calder Cup (Hershey, 2009 and 2010) and the Stanley Cup.
Additionally, Washington's goaltending coach is Scott Murray, who worked closely with the Bears and was based in Hershey previously as the club's associate goaltending coach from 2013-17. Former Capital great Olie Kolzig spends a good amount time in Chocolatetown working with Washington's prospects. Hershey's current video coach, Mike King, is up with the Capitals for the playoff run as well, and even found his way into the team's Eastern Conference Championship picture.
In the broadcast booth, legendary Hershey play-by-play man John Walton calls the action for the Capitals Radio Network. This is Walton's first Stanley Cup Final after calling three Calder Cup wins in Hershey.
Vegas Golden Knights
HOW THEY GOT HERE:
When the NHL approved the expansion application for Las Vegas in June 2016, no one could have forecast what was ahead. Former Washington general manager George McPhee took the same post for the new club, which was named the Golden Knights in November of 2016. Gerard Gallant took over as head coach, and the team put together a sensational Expansion Draft, aided by many trades and side deals. Many expected Vegas, like many expansion teams before, to struggle. Prior to the puck dropping, the Golden Knights helped comfort the community after a tragedy occured in Vegas on Oct. 1 when a gunman killed 58 people at a concert on the Vegas Strip. The Golden Knights held an emotional opening night on Oct. 10, honoring those who were lost. The team went on to win the game over Los Angeles, 5-2, and the Golden Knights never stopped winning. They finished 51-24-7, earning 109 points, and a Pacific Division title.
Vegas has only had to play 15 playoff games so far. They swept LA in four games in the opening round, winning each contest by just one goal. It took six games in the second round, but Vegas dispatched of the San Jose Sharks, 4-2. In the Western Conference Final, Vegas grounded the Winnipeg Jets in five games, including winning four straight.
KEY PLAYOFF CONTRIBUTORS:
Marc-Andre Fleury has been the MVP of the playoffs so far, posting a 12-3 record, a 1.68 goals against average, a .947 save percentage, and four shutouts. The goaltender has won two straight Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. One time Connecticut Whale, Springfield Falcon, and Syracuse Crunch forward Jonathan Marchessault leads Vegas with 18 points while Reilly Smith has 14 assists.
FORMER BEARS FOR VEGAS:
Cody Eakin, Deryk Engelland, Nate Schmidt.
Eakin won the Calder Cup with Hershey in 2009-10, while Engelland, an alternate captain in Vegas, played parts of two seasons for the Bears from 2005-07, appearing in one playoff game during the team's run to the 2006 Calder Cup. Schmidt, a fan-favorite in Hershey and Washington for his trademark smile and upbeat personality, has gone from being a player on the cusp with the Capitals, to a top pairing defender for the Golden Knights.
Additionally, Vegas assistant coaches Ryan McGill are Ryan Craig are former Bears, with McGill playing for the club from 1991-93, and Craig skating with the Chocolate and White in 2003-04. Former Bear Kent Hawley is a scout for the club. George McPhee, the GM of the Golden Knights, is well known in Hershey from his time in Washington. McPhee and former Hershey president and general manager Doug Yingst, worked hand-in-hand to help build Hershey into a dynasty, as the club won Calder Cups in 2006, 2009, and 2010. McPhee was general manager in Washington when many of the current Capitals, and former Bears, were brought into the organization.
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